By Jodi S. Cohen and David Kidwell
7:18 PM CST, November 6, 2012
The Chicago elections website was non-functioning most of the day today, adding to the confusion among voters who didn't realize their polling sites had changed.
The Chicago Board of Elections website, which voters could use to check where to vote, went down early Tuesday morning. It was functioning by about 4:00 this afternoon.
By 2:24 p.m., the Board of Elections had documented 864 cases of Chicago voters showing up at the wrong polling place. About 20 percent of city voters were sent to new polling sites this year due to redistricting.
And when voters and elections officials tried to find the correct locations, the Chicago elections website was not there to help.
"We are investigating the possibility that our website problems this morning were caused by a malicious attack," said Langdon Neal, spokesman for the Chicago board of elections. "We were overwhelmed by hits, and we know that a significant portion of them did not come from individual voters asking to find their polling place."
He said many of the requests appeared to be coming from computer servers.
"We can tell by the way the requests are coming in and the volume," said James Allen, spokesman for board of elections. "It's behaving like a computer program and not like people with legitimate questions."
Neal described the morning voter turnout as "massive" but suggested that could be due to a recent trend of most Chicago residents voting early in the day.
"It's difficult to say at mid-day what this means," he said. "But we still expect a 75 percent turnout by the end of the day."
Allen said the city had redirected its servers to the state elections website -- State of Illinois website -- and was working to "beef up" the firewall protections. The state website also experienced periodic responsiveness issues based on searches at the Tribune Tuesday morning.
City residents were also told they could find their polling places by texting their name and address to the Board of Elections at (312) 361-8846, but that was down as well. Voters were also asked to call (312) 269-7900 or go to the state elections Website to find their polling place.
Allen said there has been some precinct confusion among voters, which he said is typical after redistricting, but no major problems.
"There are instances of people going to the wrong polling places, as we expected," he said. "This is always the way it is after redistricting."
Heather Boggs, 35, for example, went to the wrong site after consulting an outdated voter registration card. Election judges at two sites sent her to two more incorrect places.
After being turned away at the third site, she said she was giving up.
"I am pretty frustrated. I don't think I'm going to vote," said Boggs, who said she had to get home to her children. "I am pretty disappointed. The people didn't know what they were doing."
Marisol Cruz was turned away from a voting site on North Sawyer Avenue in Logan Square and was told that she had a new voting site north of there. When she got to the second site, Coonley Elementary school, she was told she was in the wrong ward.
"Someone has to fix this," Cruz said. "I'm not running around anymore."
The list of registered voters was missing in the 23rd precinct, causing problems among voters there. Election judge Peggy Studiger was frustrated as she handed out dozens of provisional ballots at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School on the city’s South Side. Her supply was running low and the line was out of the door.
"We've had more provisional ballots than ever before, said Studiger. "We've got people who have been voting here for 20 years and they're mad."Long lines awaited voters this morning.
At Margate Park Fieldhouse on the city's North Side, voters on their way to work waited 30 to 40 minutes in a line that extended out the front door. By 8:30 a.m., an election judge said 116 voters had cast ballots in the Margate Park precinct.
"We've had a steady stream," said election judge Leon Klement. "So far it's been pretty smooth."
With the polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Illinois voters are casting ballots for president, Congress, the state legislature, and in hundreds of more localized contests.
Statewide voters will consider a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution asking whether it should be tougher for government to improve public employee pension benefits. Even if approved, the measure would have little impact on the nation's most underfunded public pension system. Dozens of localized referendum issues also are on the ballot.
There were about 30 people waiting to vote when the polling site opened this morning at Coonley elementary school, on the city's North Side.
Lines stretched about 50 deep by 7 a.m., and some people chose to vote against the wall instead of going into a private space.
"Sorry for the long wait," election judge Brendan Shultz, 21, told voters in line.
He said there's energy in the air today.
"This is when it matters. You can feel it's a big election happening."
Zach Wasilew waited about a half hour to vote at Coonley with his 7-year-old son, Jacob.
"One of the things about democracy is it can be boring," Wasilew joked to his son. He then passed the time teaching him the merits of democracy and the definition of a "swing state."
Democracy, he told his son, "can be boring but it is the peaceful way to make a transition."
Compared to the last presidential election for years ago, Wasilew said, "there is certainly less energy and a massive sense of foreboding."
"It is way more up in the air than four years ago, he said. "The outcome is really uncertain."
One pregnant woman was so determined to vote that she stopped on her way to the hospital.
A pregnant Galicia Malone, in south suburban Dolton, wasn't going to let anything stop her from voting in her first presidential election – not even being in labor.
With contractions five minutes apart, Malone, 21, stopped to cast her ballot at her precinct before driving to the hospital. She voted at about 8:30 a.m. at the New Life Celebration Church.
"If only all voters showed such determination to vote," Cook County Clerk David Orr said in a news release. "My hat goes off to Galicia for not letting anything get in the way of voting. What a terrific example she is showing for the next generation, especially her new son or daughter."
Voter turnout appeared to be high in Naperville, too.
By 11:30 a.m., a polling place in the Thornbury Woods subdivision had more than 200 votes in, not counting those filed on the election site's digital screen or by absentee ballot. The entire precinct has 900 registered voters.
"I've done a lot of traveling around the world and I've been lucky enough to experience other cultures and countries where voting is not as easy," said DuPage County election judge Phyllis Newman. "So it just makes it that much more important as a citizen to do my civic duty."
It took three ballots for Jai Sangha, 82, and his wife, Joginder Sangha, 81, to properly cast their vote, but the Naperville couple were thrilled each time. The Sanghas, who moved to Naperville from India in 1992 and became U.S citizens shortly after, put the 20-minute wait in perspective.
"Sometimes it takes many days for voting because of security problems," Jai Sangha said. "It is good to vote to express our own views."
Voter turnout in DuPage County is strong, said Robert Saar, executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission.
Turnout in presidential election years is typically at about 75 percent in DuPage. Before 2 p.m. Tuesday, about 55 percent of the county’s registered 550,000 voters had already cast a ballot at one of 336 polling places.
"And there's still several peak hours ahead of us," said Saar, who predicted DuPage's final voter turnout to be up to 77 percent. Besides today's crush as the polls, an estimated 100,000 voters weighed in early through absentee and mail options, which will be counted first once the polls close.
No major problems were reported, Saar said.
"I think we’re going to get our normal, healthy turnout," he said.
At Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston, roughly 100 people were waiting outside when the polling place opened at 6 a.m. "We had a big crush," said Mark Johansen, 59, a poll worker. "I opened the doors. It was a mob coming in."
The polling entrance at Lincoln School had been changed to a side door because of a recent renovation at the school, causing some confusion. "More signage would have helped," said Alyx Kesselring, 37. But, she noted, with a shrug: "I have a master's degree. I can figure it out."
Turnout at Lincoln School remained steady through the morning, poll workers said. Voters in line seemed motivated to cast their ballots.
Margaret Smith, 32, said she had been worried because she hadn't received her voter ID card.
"My office manager spent an hour online trying to figure out if I was registered," she said. Luckily, when Smith checked her mail yesterday, the card had arrived — just in time.
Voters said they were motivated to vote because of the presidential election. But many others mentioned other issues, too. Susan Samson, 47, said she came to cast her vote on judicial retention. Betsey Easton, 47, came to vote for a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for governments to increase retirement benefits for public employees.
"I'm worried," said Easton, as she left the polls. "Our government officials aren't stepping up and doing their jobs and making the tough decisions."
At the Burbank Fire Department, 21-year-old Christina Diaz announced it was her first time voting, eliciting a chorus of "Yays!" from the poll workers.
"It feels awesome," she said, showing off her "I voted" sticker.
The Moraine Valley Community College student was too young to vote in the last presidential election. She said she felt a little "left out" back in 2008.
"You're uninvolved," she said. "You want to make a difference but you can't."
She said she might try early voting next election season but wanted her first time to be in-person on Election Day. Diaz added that she voted for Obama.
"His plans and policies will help me the most," she said, referring to education issues.
A steady stream of voters filed into Compass Church in Naperville.
Woodridge retirees Dave and Elsie Knoebber, married 52 years, recalled the excitement of their first presidential election with Eisenhower. Their top concerns are related to pensions, Social Security and protecting their health benefits.
"I will be watching tonight with white knuckles," said Dave Knoebber, who taught animation at Columbia College. "Even though we've been around for a lot of elections, each one gets more important. When you're young, you don't worry as much. When you get a little older, it's a different story."
As a retired English teacher who taught literature to Elmhurst middle school students, Dick Owings said education is the key issue to him this election.
"Education is the key to everything," said Owings, 72, who has cast a ballot in every presidential election since Kennedy.
Despite his passion for politics, the self-professed liberal said he won't be tuning into election coverage tonight.
"I overdosed," he said of the onslaught of political coverage in recent weeks.
Even before today, more than a half-million people cast ballots in Chicago and suburban Cook County through early voting and voting by mail. With mailed-in ballots still arriving, the total was slightly below the 557,161 pre-election day ballots cast four years ago.
Illinois has not been in play during the expensive presidential campaign, with Republican Mitt Romney effectively ceding it to home-state President Barack Obama. But the top of the ticket contest could have coattails in the state's new 18 congressional districts.
Obama arrived in Chicago early this morning and will hold an evening rally at McCormick Place. In between, Obama plans to continue his tradition of playing basketball on Election Day, a campaign aide said, and will have dinner with his family at their Kenwood home.Dahleen Glanton, Angie Leventis Lourgos, Colleen Mastony and Vikki Ortiz Healy contributed.
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